We live in an era of unprecedented interconnectedness. Globalization, regional and global markets, currencies and organizations, the speed of travel and more bring people from all areas of the globe together in a way that has never been seen before. Likewise, the internet has revolutionized the way we interact with each other: Facebook, Twitter, Skype, email and too many more for a tech moron like me to list bring people into virtual contact with friends, family and acquaintances the world over. I have over 400 friends on Facebook. Just the other day, 478 people landed on this blog to read about Sophie. We play such party games as Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon, which is in itself a funny little * of proving how connected we are in today’s weird and insanely fast world.

So why am I so lonely?

The answer is obvious: friends are different than soul mates. I have lost my soul mate, my closest and most enduring friend, my partner in everything from parenting to eating yummy stuff. Janie was the other half of Phil. Many of you never knew us before we were an item. I have a hard time recalling what life was like before she was in it. All I know is it was better with her as a part of it.

That said, I am not alone. Yesterday’s post spoke about family. Today’s will deal with the other part of the equation: friends. Not the Facebook kind, either, although many if not all of my friends are also Facebook friends.

A friend is one who has chosen to be in a relationship with you. That right there is already brilliant: you do not suck so badly that someone else would not want to hang out with you. Having even one friend validates your existence; it says that “I am, in fact, NOT the world’s most irritating and insufferable person!” If you were, well, you’d have no friends.

A friend is one who has made a wordless commitment to persevering in friendship with you until such a time as the trust therein is irrevocably broken. The first question to ask when someone no longer wants to be your friend is “what have I done wrong?” Sometimes people ditch us for no good reason. Rest assured, they weren’t real friends. It hurts, but you are the better for it. Real friends will tell you when you dropped the ball. They do this because a friend will also know you are a human being, and that at some point you’re likely to make a mistake. In love, they inform you of this in hope that you’ll make it right, and so the friendship endures.

A friend is one who chooses to love you. Some friendships can be taxing, but a friend chooses to love you and give you the grace you need. Right now, I am not an easy friend to have around. My moods change quicker than this year’s weather. I’m fine in the morning, indifferent by lunchtime, suicidal by 2:30 and fine again by the time the kids go to bed. And tomorrow, we do it all again…

I am glad to say I have many wonderful friends, both near and far, that have given me the necessary strength to just make it through the day. Friends like Shaun Kennedy-Gannon, who in the first week following Janie’s death took me out to the pub several times so that I could sob into my beer. Friends like Ben Aldous, who every week makes the time in his schedule to have breakfast with me, so I can sob into my eggs. Friends like Chris Steyn, who comes by once or twice a week just to talk.

Friends like Wendy De Goede, who was there all through every stage of this ordeal. Friends like Jo Stevens, who has lost her oldest friend, and who has now realized that life is more than work. You are most welcome back home, my dear.

Friends like Katie Aston-Rickardt, who was inspired to compose a training manual for Gorilla based upon our Janie. In fact, all the great apes at Gorilla have proven to be real friends to me during this time, each in their own way.

Friends like all my amigos in the States, who have sent reams of messages to me on Facebook, who fill my broken glass of hope just enough to keep me from careening over the edge of despair. Friends like the whole Salfrank clan, who sent us a care package filled with little memories and books for the kids. For the record, Tickle Monster and The Very Busy Spider have been on constant rotation during story time every night since the box arrived!

Friends like the supper club gang in the States, who constantly remind via Facebook of their love and how much they miss Janie. Friends like Patrick Callahan, who spoke so eloquently at Janie’s memorial in Delaware. In fact, the whole of the Archer Group gets an honourable mention their expressions of love and sorrow.

Friends like my old church in the States, First Alliance Church, whose support went beyond prayer to supplying for real, practical needs. Friends like the body at my church, Hillside, who have prayed for me and the kids and offered much emotional and spiritual support.

There are too many friends to remember… Ray Ray, for shooting me messages and reminders of your love towards your BFF. Emma, for loaning Shaun to me at a drop of a hat, and just being the Emma the babies adore. To the Frisingers, for helping out on what became a stupidly busy day. To Billy, who in the first day or two after Janie’s death basically took over all the nuts and bolts of little things that had to be done, that I couldn’t do. To Faye and Claire Weston, who have been so important for the kids. To everyone at my grief group, Nicole, Letia, Roger, everyone, who every week I get my dose of hope from others who have lost their soul mates too. To Ben and Kelly-Ayn Thomas who pour love into me even from so very far away. To all my buddies at PACA that have sent messages of condolence. To Chris and Faith Mercurio, whose care and concern, not to mention prayers, support all three of us every day. To all the parents at Fairy Tales playschool, such as Tony and Tonya Miles and Karen and Boun Monk-Klinstra, who have had us three over to play with their kids, to cry or just chill. To Amanda Legatt, who seems to have ninja skills for knowing when to drop by.

To all of you who sent cards, who have provided the meals that now crowd my freezer, that have called, Facebook messaged, emailed condolences, memories and prayers. To everyone who has pulled the fence around us in our time of need… how can I ever thank you?

This post is not about that, not about a generalized thank you. I want you, as you read this, to allow it to sink in… the hundreds of people, friends, acquaintances and more, all motivated by this one, catastrophic event.

Think of this word: network. The image at the top of this blog is of a grass basket. Grass, something so fragile on its own. When woven together it becomes strong, virtually unbreakable, and useful.

We are so fragile on our own, but when we are woven together in a network of friends, family, people who care, when that happens we become more than just individuals. We even become more than the sum of our parts. We become something useful, something purposeful.

We become the safety nets that catch us when we fall.

I have fallen far into a network of love and care.

Where would I be without this network? Adrift, cut off, more desperately alone than I could imagine.

Every time you feel badly about not doing more for a friend, like me, who is in a situation like this, remember the network. Everything you do counts for something.

Because of this network of family and friends, I know that I will make it, that Seanie will make it, that Sophie will make it. Every one of you that have done something, no matter how small, have thrown a little mortar into the foundation. Don’t forget that.

The danger with a post such as this is all the people I’ve forgotten to mention. I hope that love will cover over these omissions. I hope you know you play on my mind, even if it doesn’t happen when I am writing a post. Grief is such a self-centered thing. You become so aware of your sorrow, the loss, the pain, that sometimes you forget about everyone and everything else.

In time the boat will right itself and I will function normally again. That time is still some ways off.

I am lonely because I lost the love of my life, but I am not alone. The subtle difference there is the difference between a desperately sad yet hopeful individual and a suicidal person.

You have made all the difference.

Originally published August 16, 2011


Family rules

By definition, I am a family man. I have a family, a family and a family. Let me explain.

My mom and dad

I have a family, part 1: Those are my folks in the photo, David and Judy Jones. This photo was taken during their visit earlier this year, when Janie was still with us. Janie is behind the camera on this one.

I think mom and dad fell in love with Janie before I did. They were thrilled and excited the minute they met her all those years ago in Colorado. It’s a story I hope to relate here sometime.

Mom and dad walked with us as a couple through some very tricky times during our six years in the States from 2003 to 2009. They were parents and pastors, friends and leaders, sharers in both our burdens and joys. They wept with us when Janie miscarried, and rejoiced when Seanie and Sophie were born. Dad presided over our marriage in 2002, and dedicated both of our babies to the Lord. Mom was Janie’s mom too, a friend, a confidant, and one whom Janie trusted implicitly. She called them mom and dad, and never referred to them even to me by any other title. They were not “your parents.” They were mom and dad.

Tomas, my big bro

This is my big brother, Tomas. After meeting Janie back in 1999 during a short visit of her’s to America, he asked if she had any sisters. To him, Janie was the baby sister he always wanted. There’s a funny story related to that which I might relate someday, but suffice to say that he never treated or saw Janie as someone from outside the family.

When Janie and I moved to the States in 2003, we spent several months living at Tomas’ house in Newark. He was able to arrange a job for her at Toscana, and it was there where she eventually bumped into the inimitable Patrick Callahan from the Archer Group, where she embarked on a career in online media that stood her in good stead for the rest of her short life here on this rock.

The months spent at Tomas’ house solidified a friendship and love between them, all of us, really. We were a bit of a gang there for a while. Some of my fondest memories of our time in the States were formed at the little house on Brennan Drive.

The puntiff, Randy

This is Randy: brother, friend, best man at my wedding, pedant, spouter of dreadful puns, teacher of English to a generation of little emperors in China who firmly believe plagiarism is their birthright, and so much more.

Randy lives in China, and thus only had the opportunity to hang out with Janie and our little family sporadically over the years. Nevertheless, this did not stop him from inflicting grievous punnery on Janie at every opportunity. His quirky humour and interesting insights were something she always cherished. Their long conversations on the couch at my parent’s house off of Kirkwood Highway in Newark, Delaware stand out in my mind. I love my brother, and my brother loves to talk. As do I. As do all Joneses. Janie was such a good listener. She listened and listened and listened to us over the years.

She was us. We were she. We have lost so much.

My mom and dad Spence, with Seanie in Delaware, circa 2008

I have a family, part two: those are my folks in the photo to the left, Al and Sue Spence. These two people are responsible for the single greatest gift of my life: Janie. I owe them everything. My parents gave me life by bringing me into this world on 27 November, 1975, in Porto Alegre, Brazil. My mom and dad Spence gave me life by allowing their 18 year old daughter to travel to the States to attend a YWAM [Youth With A Mission] DTS [Discipleship Training School] in April 1998. These two events are, without a doubt, the most important of my life. While their gift to me in the form of Janie has left this world, they continue to give me hope and a sense of calm on a day to day basis that without would leave me careening against the rocks and boulders of my grief.

Mom and dad Spence are also responsible for bringing two of history’s most fantastic young women into the world: my sisters Philippa and Andi.

My sister Philippa, nutritionist to the masses, giving Seanie a bottle circa 2008

This is my big little sister, Philippa. I have often joked that we should have gotten married, and then we would Phil and Phil Jones. Silly and serious in equal measure, Philippa is among the most competent and compassionate people I have ever met. A nutritionist by trade, she dispenses knowledge on all things food related with a confidence and authority that are informative and engaging at the same time. Her devotion to her family, her husband Will Barnard, and Seanie and Sophie are a testament to the calibre of person she is. I admire, love and like her all at once. She is a my big little sister, younger in age but an old, wise soul. The world is a better place because of her.

From left to right: the fearless, reincarnated Viking warrior queen Shirleigh Skinner, my dear Janie, and my baby sister, Andi

This is my baby sister Andi. As any big brother to a younger sister knows, I feel a tiny bit protective of her. She’s off in Korea right now, teaching English and experiencing the Far East. When I first met Andi, she was just a weedly little snip of a girl, awkward in her Standard 5 [translation for my American friends: seventh grade] uniform, and unsure of who this loud yank was. Over the years she has flourished into an accomplished, intelligent and creative young woman. While not known for her organizational skills, from the maelstrom of her personal environment she conjures art, beauty and meaning through her singing and mosaics. Like a deep, old well whose depths have never been measured, you can know much and almost nothing at all about her at the same time. A joy to be with and talk to, my baby sister is one of my favorite people in the world.

The Spence Girls Three are a force of nature, and when coupled with the indefatigable optimism and can-do attitude of their wonderful parents, form the warm, beating heart of a family that can quite literally overcome any obstacle. The Spence’s took me in all those years ago when I was just a young man who had chased the love of his life out to South Africa. They accepted me, earrings, funny accent  and all into their family, and have poured wisdom, kindness and bucketloads of silliness into me. I could not fit have fitted into any other family, anywhere, ever. Of this I am convinced.

I am them. They are me. We have lost so much.

This was us: left to right, Sophie and Seanie, Janie and me in the background

I have a family, part three: These are my gorgeous children, the lights of life, my precious gifts: Sean Callum and Sophie Renee Jones. There is much to say about them: Seanie is sweet, slightly shy and very sensitive. Sophie is brash, loud and hilarious. She is also one who is deeply concerned with others. Both inherited their mother’s best qualities while also managing to be completely unique little people in and of themselves. They are exceptional human beings, worthy of the Jones and Spence pedigree from which they came.

Janie’s devotion to her children is, perhaps, the thing I miss the most about her. I have said other things to other people that are all the things I miss “the most.” These things vary in degree only inasmuch as to when I say them. At one moment, I miss her steadiness. At another, I miss her humour. At another, I miss the feel of her body next to mine in bed. But when you boil it all down, two people become one, and from that love springs forth life. Metaphorical life, in the sense of the combined experiences of two people that become a combined narrative, an inextricably woven tapestry of memory, which gives meaning to both lives in unison. It also gives birth to real, literal life. Our love brought forth Seanie and Sophie. Two lives, two individuals whom Janie devoted her life to. Her every thought, every effort, every sacrifice was for them. When I say I miss her devotion to our children most of all, I miss what its absence has caused: an impoverishment. Seanie and Sophie are the poorer for losing their mother because her love for them was a powerful, life-giving thing.

They are us. We are they.

We have all lost so, so much.

To separate family, family and family is an exercise in expediency since, in reality, these are not separations of scale or importance. We are a family. All of us. We are each other in a very real sense.

A vital component has been lost. We have all lost so much, all of us, every one. I do not believe any one has lost more than the other, but the loss means slightly different things to each of us in our large, loving family.

Thankfully, there is love. So much of it. We grieve a massive loss, but despair will not camp out in our midst like an invading army. The love that from which we all sprang into this world, from our different streams and different places of the globe is still there.

That is the rich legacy of the Spence-Jones clan: love. I love my family. Every one of them. From here I came and from here I will launch into this next, if unwelcome stage of life. I weep every day. I will for a long time still. But every day I see my mom Spence and receive one of her life-giving hugs, I stand in the middle of the river of that love. Every time my mom Jones writes me an email to express her sorrow, there too I stand in the middle of that river of love. Every time Tomas calls me at 11pm (check the time zones, bud), I stand in the river. Every time my dad Spence explains the financial spreadsheet he’s drawn up for me, I stand in the river. Every time Philippa wells up with tears of longing for her sister, I stand in the river. Every time Randy emails me with another stomach-churning pun, I stand in the river. Every time Andi emails a link to a song that reminds her of Janie, I stand in the river. Every time my dad Jones prays for me on Skype, I stand in the river.

It washes over me and cleans out the wound that threatens to close up and infect my soul.

Love cleanses, love heals.

We have all lost so much, but love is the great balancer of the books. Thank you, my family. I love you all.

Originally published August 12, 2011